All posts by Nigel Thrift


A Global Push to Reduce Dropout Rates

Britain has one of the lowest dropout rates of any country in the world, according to a recent study by Sylke V. Schnepf, a researcher at the University of Southhampton. Her work showed that 16 percent of British students prematurely leave their courses at universities, colleges, and vocational institutions.

Her study examined mostly European nations and did not include the United States. While not an apples-to-apples comparison, 46 percent of those who enter an American college fail to graduat…


Civility in Academe, and the Lack of It

I want to return to the theme of civility that I addressed in a previous post.

Modern life can sometimes feel like the jungle. On the Internet, the sheer venom of online attacks is extraordinary to behold and also a bit depressing—people really think this way? The world seems a lot less hospitable, a lot bleaker.

Sadly, academe is not immune.

I have been reading John A. Hall’s excellent book The Importance of Being Civil: The Struggle for Political Decency. His thesis is that civil behavior that…


Learning From the Southern Hemisphere

I recently visited Australia and Indonesia, both countries which—in their different ways—are pivotal for global higher education.

Australia is a complex system in which higher education has become a big business. It attracts a significant number of international students, especially from Asia, which generates some $6.8-billion dollars (Australian) a year, according to the Grattan Institute. That makes higher education the country’s fourth largest export earner.

Australia has pioneered new system…


Seeing Small Times: a New Frontier in Social Science

I recently visited the CERN research facility in Geneva, where a number of faculty members from the University of Warwick work. There, four great experiments spaced around the almost 17-mile ring of the Large Hadron Collider are being put to work on questions like what happened after the Big Bang. In such work it is normal to think not only in terms of large spans of time but also in picoseconds. Indeed, much of today’s science is conducted in the realm of the very small and sometimes vanishingl…


2014: a Year of ‘Consolidation’ in Britain

For British higher education, 2014 will be a period of consolidation. Specifically, I think we will see four trends grow as budgets tighten, as the system becomes more market oriented, and as universities face more pressure to produce better education and research with less resources. These developments mean more universities will be forced to ask themselves whether they have the right scale of operations to succeed.

First, there will be much more competition around the student experience. As mo…


Where Is Higher Education’s Global Representation?

A recent report by the Martin School at the University of Oxford (whose remarkable benefactor, James Martin, sadly died this year) bemoans the lack of  institutions able to manage the interconnected world in which we now find ourselves. The report is surely right about that.

Could the same plaint be made about universities? At first glance, there might seem to be remarkably little global governance of universities. But look more closely, and there is, in fact, a bewilderingly complex set of netw…


The Return of the Liberal Arts to Europe

The liberal arts have always been a North American preoccupation. It has traditionally been one of the main ways in which American and Canadian higher education has presented itself to the world. Liberal-arts colleges are some of the jewels in the crown of American higher education, and the spirit of the liberal arts has impressed itself on many of the great American universities.

But now the liberal arts are moving out into the world. For example, in Europe, liberal-arts colleges are beginning …


Trading Spaces: the Evolving Academic Office in Britain

Offices are a central part of academic life. I can attest to this statement because here I sit at home in my “office” writing this blog. I am cocooned by comforting piles of books and papers just as I have been for more years than I want to recall.

My home office is my research office: I suppose I ought to call it a study. It’s where I do most of my “real” work. I always make sure that I position my desk so that I cannot see out of the room. That way, there are no distractions. But other academi…


University Anniversaries Worldwide

Part of the light show performed at the U. of Cambirdge to celebrate the 800th anniversary of its founding.

Part of the light show performed at the U. of Cambridge to celebrate the 800th anniversary of its founding.

Anniversaries are a fact of life at universities. Wherever there are universities, there are anniversaries of universities—of their founding, of course, and then of other especially memorable dates in their histories. Sometimes it’s an anniversary of some whimsical occasion with no significance except for its very eccentricity.

Perhaps China is the most adept practitioner of the university…


It’s Time to Accept Higher Education’s Growing Role in the Economy

Higher education is becoming more and more integral to national economies, especially as universities find new ways to work together.

I began thinking about their expanding roles after reading Finches of Mars, the latest book by the British science-fiction author Brian Aldiss. While it is not exactly a literary triumph, what is interesting about the book is that it posits that in the near future an international association of universities will have jointly colonized Mars. Instead of the U.N., w…